Once Walked With Dragons

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Chapter Forty Eight

Zarra found herself quite intrigued with the many story books in the library; even enjoying most of them. So far, she had not found any stories regarding the Ravens or even the Dark Elves, though she had found several books that she simply could not put down and ended up finishing quite a few of them.

After her conversation with Artemis, Keara had first ensured that Deryck went to bed. He had barely stayed awake during their long conversation regarding the wall and the ward, so when he climbed into bed, he was asleep before his head even touched the pillow.
She was now on her way to the library. Hoping to discover that Zarra had found something interesting or intriguing. However, when she opened the door to the library, she found Zarra so completely engrossed in a book, that her presence had gone unnoticed.
‘Zarra?’ Keara couldn’t believe that Zarra was actually reading story books.
Zarra quickly looked up, ‘Keara.’ she said with a shy smile.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Reading.’ Zarra answered, trying to sound innocent, although she was not guilty.
‘Story books?’
‘Since when?’
‘Since you said we might find some information in the story books. Don’t you remember?’ now Zarra sounded completely guilty.
‘Yes, I did say that. But you didn’t sound all that interested in reading stories; although now you seem to be enjoying them more than the history books.’ Keara paused, ‘In fact, you thought I was losing it.’
‘Oh yes.’ Zarra remembered, feeling a blush creep across her face, ‘Sorry about that.’
Keara chuckled, ‘It’s okay. You’re not the only person who thinks I’m crazy.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Nothing.’ Keara dismissed it, ‘So have you found anything?’ she asked as she walked over to the table where Zarra was sitting.
‘Nothing yet. And I’ve been through quite a few already.’ Zarra gestured towards a pile of books lying on the far end of the table.
‘I can see that. Need some help?’ Keara asked.
‘I don’t need it, but I wouldn’t mind it.’ Zarra admitted, ‘But shouldn’t you be working on the ward?’
‘I’m going back tomorrow. With mages.’ Keara answered as she took a few books off the shelf.
‘What mages?’
‘Human ones.’ Keara sat down on the edge of the table, resting her feet on a chair.
‘You mean, Artemis’ mages?’
‘Are they gonna do any good?’
‘I don’t know. But it’s worth a try.’ Keara opened a book and started reading, ‘It’s the only option we have right now.’
‘Are they gonna build a new ward?’
‘Not exactly. They’re just gonna patch up the existing ward until we can find the dragons.’
‘Dragons? You really think they’ll help us?’ Zarra asked, ‘I mean, the people we are trying to save, did have dragon slayers in some generations.’
‘I know. But we’re not just trying to save the humans.’
‘True, but still.’
‘I don’t know.’ Keara admitted. She wasn’t sure if they would even find the dragons, ‘Let’s just say, we’ll worry about it when we get there.’
‘Whatever you say.’ Zarra left the conversation there and turned her attention back to the many books lying open in front of her.
Keara let her attention be completely drawn into the books she had chosen to read. Though the stories were intriguing, she did not find any relevant information.

By sunrise, Keara and Deryck were heading towards the gate, followed by every mage the kingdom could spare; which was only a handful; and about a dozen soldiers. Several mules with supplies and bedrolls were lined up next to the horses.
Keara softly touched Deryck’s arm, ‘Watch the forest.’
‘When we were checking the wall, I kept feeling that someone was watching us. The presence was constant. It followed us almost all the way around.’
Deryck grew concerned, ‘Why didn’t you say anything sooner?’
‘Honestly, what was I gonna say? You couldn’t sense it. The guards on the wall couldn’t even see it.’
‘How do you know?’
‘If they did, they would’ve warned us.’ Keara pointed out.
‘Good point.’ Deryck had to agree, ‘Do you think it was a Shadow?’
‘No. That was not a Shadow. They don’t keep their distance.’ Keara answered, ‘This, thing, was observing us and it never showed itself. It knew that I was aware of its presence, but it didn’t leave.’
‘So, what should we do?’
‘Just keep your guard up.’
Keara addressed the soldiers as well as the mages, informing them that everyone should stay alert and work as fast as they can without risking any more problems. She kept the presence of a being in the forest to herself, but did mention that the forest is a dangerous place after dark and with everything that has been going on, it could be even more dangerous now. With that in mind, they all headed out together, along with the horses and mules.
Once the gate closed behind them, the mages started working on bandaging the ward as much as their abilities would allow.
Keara could see that this was going to be a painfully slow process, and it required the concentration and energy of every mage. The soldiers remained on constant guard, feeling uneasy with the unnatural silence coming from the forest.

By nightfall, they had progressed only a few short miles. The soldiers set up camp and started a fire.
Keara sat to one side, allowing the men to work. She was watching them, but wasn’t really paying attention to what they were doing. Deryck saw that Keara was lost in thought. He sat down next to her, and taking her hand is his, he asked, ‘Is it here?’
‘It’s been watching us since we came through the gate.’ she informed, looking at him.
‘What do you think it wants?’
‘I don’t even know what it is.’
‘Great.’ Deryck said dryly.
‘What are we gonna do?’ Deryck hoped Keara would have some ideas.
‘There’s a small town, not too far from here. I thought I’d fly over there some time and find out if they have any stories about whatever this thing is.’ Keara said, ‘But in the meantime, I would suggest we all just stay vigilant.’
‘Do you really think the townspeople might have a story about this being?’
‘It’s worth a try.’ Keara thought, ‘Some townspeople even have stories about me as Crucis Salerra; and until my generation of Ravens, most people had never even heard of the Dark Elves.’
‘Can I come with you?’ Deryck asked.
‘No. You have to stay here with them; stay alert of any movement near the edge of the forest. The fact that I’m going, is already a big risk.’
‘When are you gonna go?’
‘Tomorrow morning, if I can. I’ll try to be back before nightfall.’
‘Why not just go tonight and get it over with?’
‘I have a feeling that would be a very bad idea.’
‘Well, I’ve noticed that its presence grows stronger as night falls.’
‘As in, it becomes more powerful?’ Deryck was uneasy.
‘No. I mean it comes closer to the edge of the forest.’
‘Oh. But why doesn’t it just show itself? Especially since it’s been watching us for so long.’
‘I don’t think it likes the sunlight. So it retreats deeper into the forest to avoid it.’
‘Okay, but what about night fall? Why doesn’t it show itself then?’
‘Maybe because I’m here.’
‘What?’ Deryck was immediately unnerved, ‘How do you know that?’
‘It feels more hostile towards me than it does towards you. It also seems to be more cautious.’
‘Maybe it knows who you are.’
‘That’s highly unlikely.’
‘Maybe it would be a better idea if you just stayed with us.’ Deryck suggested.
She looked at him ‘It won’t do anything in daylight.’ she considered her statement for a moment, ‘At least, I don’t think so.’
‘What if it does?’
‘Well, there are a handful of mages, a dozen soldiers and you, who have been training with us. I think you’ll be okay.’
‘You think?’
Keara just nodded, ‘I know it’s not very reassuring, but we need to find out what that being is.’
‘But, maybe you should rather stay.’
‘Are you scared?’
‘No.’ Deryck said quickly, ‘No.’
‘It’s okay if you are. I am.’
‘Really?’ Deryck was surprised to hear that she was actually afraid.
‘You’re not just saying that to make me feel better, are you?’ he asked, though he knew better.
‘Come on, Deryck. You know me better than that.’
‘Yeah, I do. I just didn’t expect to hear that from you.’
‘I know. Don’t tell Michael I told you that.’
‘Got it.’ Deryck put his arms around her and pulled her close, ‘There’s no way I can talk you out of going tomorrow, is there?’
‘Then, at the very least, be careful.’
‘Of course.’
By midnight the mages were asleep. Keara had gone into Reverie, leaving Deryck and several soldiers on watch. She had requested that they wake her up when they changed shifts, but Deryck insisted on leaving her to rest.

Joseph walked along the stream within the Woodland Sanctuary. For some reason, he could not relax. He felt an evil presence lurking in the forest, just outside the sanctuary; a presence he had never felt before, yet some part of it felt strangely familiar. Whatever it was, it would not get inside the sanctuary, but the simple fact that it was wandering around such a place, was rather unnerving.
‘Joseph?’ Saresse said softly behind him.
He turned around, smiling softly at her, ‘My love.’
‘Are you alright?’ she asked as she approached him.
He stepped closer to her, taking her in his arms, letting her rest her head on his chest.
‘I’m fine.’ he finally answered.
‘You seem somewhat restless.’ she observed.
‘It’s nothing.’
‘Is it the presence outside the sanctuary that has you so restless?’ Saresse asked.
Joseph was surprised to hear her say that, ‘As a matter of fact, it is.’
‘Do you know what it is?’ she asked again as she looked into his eyes.
‘Maybe it’s the Shadows.’
‘No. They would’ve tried to find a way in by now.’
Saresse considered that statement for a moment, ‘Do you think Keara will know what it is?’
‘I don’t know.’ he said, ‘But I’ll ask her when I see her again.’
Saresse rested her head on Joseph’s chest again, wishing that the day he would leave, didn’t have to come.

Artemis watched the sunrise. He was thinking about Keara’s temporary solution. He sincerely hoped it would work until they found the dragons. He was also thinking about his brother, who was again outside the safety of the wall. He was worried about his brother, but perhaps it was just the concern of an older brother.

Keara didn’t stop to have breakfast. She was in a hurry to find out if the town would be able to lift the veil on the being in the forest. She promised to be back as soon as she could; before nightfall.
Deryck still didn’t want her to go, and though he knew he could not stop her from leaving, he still tried. She said goodbye, and before Deryck could try to convince her to stay again, she spread her wings and took to the air.
Deryck watched her fly off, wishing he could follow. He hoped she would be back soon. With an unknown being lurking in the forest, he didn’t feel at all comfortable with her being by herself.

She found the town soon enough, landing at the edge, hoping not to attract too much attention. But as she started walking towards one of the taverns, many turned to look at her; children came running up to her, just to touch her hand. She had not expected people to be so happy to see her, but she didn’t mind at all. Seeing the children happily running around and holdings her hands as she walked, reminded her of home, and she couldn’t help smiling.
Since there were so many children around her, she thought of asking them if they knew anyone who could tell her stories of the forest. Some didn’t hear her and just told her their own stories, not noticing that she didn’t understand a word amongst all the screaming and shouting. But some of the older children did actually hear her question, and told of an old woman who lived at the edge of the town. She would often leave her home at night to tell stories at the tavern closest to her house; it was the only time the children were allowed inside.
They directed her to the old woman’s house and she quickly headed there; children still trailing behind her.
She knocked on the door and waited. After a few long seconds, the door slowly opened, fingers curling around the edge of the door. A face barely visible from the inside.
‘Can I help you?’ a soft, but not aged, voice came from the shadows.
‘I’ve been told that you know the stories of the forest.’ Keara stated.
‘Dangerous stories. Why would a young woman be asking about such stories?’ the door opened a little more.
‘My name is Keara Harpstrom. And I may have encountered something that needs some explaining.’
‘You’re the Dark Elf.’ the woman looked her up and down, ‘Crucis Salerra.’ ignoring Keara’s statement.
‘Uh, yes.’
‘The youngest of the Ravens.’
Keara didn’t know what else to say, ‘Yes.’
‘Do come in.’ the old woman said, opening the door wider, allowing Keara to step inside.
She looked around the room as the old woman closed the door. The only light coming from the fireplace.
‘Please, sit down.’ the old woman gestured to the table and chairs near the fireplace, ‘Your name is Keara, correct?’
‘Uh, yes. And you are?’
‘My name is Lenora.’
‘The Travelling Storyteller.’ Keara said matter-of-factly.
‘When I was young, yes.’ Lenora smiled, ‘Would you like some tea?’
‘Yes, please.’ Keara answered, ‘I thought you were across the sea.’
‘I was. But I could never leave my home behind. This little town means everything to me.’ she turned and started preparing the tea.
Keara just sat there in silence as Lenora hummed to herself. She wasn’t sure if she should continue the conversation or just wait for Lenora to finish. She was soon distracted from her train of thought as she started looking around, paying more attention to everything in the room. Books stacked everywhere; drawings put up on the wall, some covering the table. And so many journals with half-finished sentences. Lenora had probably been busy with those journals when Keara knocked on the door.
Lenora put a tray down on the table and poured tea for Keara and herself. She then sat down and sipped her tea, before asking, ‘Why are you interested in the stories of the forest, Keara?’
‘I, uh...’ Keara wasn’t sure how to say it.
‘You’ve noticed it, haven’t you?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Keara was a little surprised.
‘The creatures lurking in the forest.’
‘Creatures?’ Keara emphasized the plural of the word.
‘Yes, Keara. There’s more than one. And they have reached the kingdom.’ Lenora said, knowingly.
‘How did you know?’
‘It was only a matter of time’. Lenora said, taking a sip of her tea, ‘They are drawn to pure evil. And evil doesn’t get any more pure than the inhabitants of the Haunted Castle.’
‘Yes, but he’s not the only one.’
‘These creatures exist because of him?’ Keara wondered.
‘No. But they are drawn to him, because of what he is and what he has around him.’
‘But what are they?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘I don’t know, Keara.’ Lenora admitted, ‘Their origins is also a mystery to me.’
Keara was silent for a moment, then asked, ‘What do you know about them?’
Lenora took another sip of tea before putting her cup down. Looking into the fire, she said, ‘I was just a young girl, living far away from here, when I first saw them. Aimlessly wandering about the forest, as though they had no mind of their own. Not human or elven. With such vacant expressions and crouching postures. During the day, they would not leave the forest, as though doing so would mean their deaths. But by night, they emerged; walking among the houses in the village, seeming to be searching for something. Victims perhaps. Anyone who were in the streets after dark, died at their hands. And before dawn, they would disappear again.’
Keara sat there, listening to her speak. She had never heard these stories before. Neither humans, nor elves. Where did they come from? What were they really?
Lenora was silent for a moment, ‘Come listen to my stories this evening at the tavern.’
‘I can’t stay long. I have to be back before nightfall.’ Keara informed.
‘Back where?’
‘The edge of the forest.’
‘So they have indeed reached the kingdom?’
Lenora got up from her chair and walked over to a pile of books. She seemed to be searching for something among them, pulling out an old journal, worn over the years.
‘Here.’ Lenora handed the journal over to Keara, ‘I wrote about them in this journal. What I saw; what they did. Stories told to me by others. I don’t know how many of those stories were ever true, but it might give you some insight.’
Keara took the book, ‘Thank you. I will return it to you.’
‘No need, Keara. Think of it as a gift.’
Keara nodded her head, ‘Thank you.’
Keara stayed and enjoyed her tea. Lenora asked her about Crucis Salerra; how it felt and what had caused it to come forth. Wanting to know every little detail, every sensation, every emotion, even the thoughts that ran through Keara’s mind when it first happened.
Aside from Zarra, Keara had never met someone who was so interested in knowing about Crucis Salerra and how it felt to transform. Lenora stared on in fascination as Keara explained it to her bit by bit, taking notes as they went along.
‘Why are you writing this down?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘I’m a storyteller, remember. After you leave, when I’m sitting in the tavern tonight, people will certainly want to know your story.’ Lenora explained, ‘Wouldn’t you want people to know?’
‘Well, I hadn’t really thought about it.’ Keara admitted.
Lenora just smiled.
Keara ended up having several cups of tea; talking with Lenora for hours; listening to some of Lenora’s own stories. Finally looking out the window, she realized that she had to leave if she wanted to get back to Deryck before sunset. Lenora walked outside with Keara and watched in amazement as Keara’s wings grew.
Keara said goodbye with a smile and took to the air; Lenora following her with her eyes until she could no longer see her.
Keara flew over the tree tops, feeling very calm in that moment; something that she had not felt in some time. She still had Lenora’s journal in her hand and hoped to find some answers by reading it, and she probably would, but she doubted there would be a way to stop those beings from coming so close to the castle walls.

Deryck looked up at the sky, watching the sun as it started setting. He was growing somewhat worried. Keara had not yet returned and he was starting to worry that something might have happened to her. And it was growing darker by the second and whatever was in the forest, seemed to be slowly moving closer to the edge, making Deryck uneasy.
Even the mages and soldiers that were with him became more alert and kept a watchful eye on the forest, knowing that something was lurking in the shadows.
Deryck tried his best to relax, but hearing strange sounds echoing from the forest, he unsheathed his sword, readying himself for whatever may come. Even some of the soldiers unsheathed their swords, not taking their eyes off the forest and their invisible opponents.
The sun had set almost completely. Soon there would be only darkness and whatever was lurking in the forest might not keep to the shadows any longer.
‘Keara, where are you?’ Deryck desperately muttered to himself as he watched the last rays of the sun disappear.
All of a sudden, and without proper warning, Keara landed in front of him.
He was a bit stunned to see her appear in front of him so suddenly, but also relieved.
‘Sorry. It took longer than I thought it would.’ she apologized.
He hugged her tightly, watching as her wings grew shorter and shorter until it finally disappeared, ‘All that matters is that you’re here.’
She hugged him back, happy to feel his embrace.
‘Did you find what you were looking for?’ he asked when he finally let go of her.
‘Well, yes and no.’ Keara answered.
‘What?’ Deryck was confused.
Keara helped get the fire going before she told Deryck of what she had encountered. She felt that it would be safer than standing in the dark, rambling on while a potential enemy attacked them from out of nowhere.
‘I found someone who has seen these beings before, but she doesn’t know what they are or where they came from. In fact, the most she knows about them, are stories that had been told to her when she was young. Stories that go back several generations. So I think it’s pretty safe to say that no human alive today, knows of the being’s true origins.’
‘And there’s more than one of these things?’ Deryck asked.
‘Yes, how many, I’m not exactly sure.’
‘And they’ve really been around for that long?’ Deryck asked again.
‘So it seems.’
‘Then why have they never been so close to the castle before?’
‘How do you know they’ve never been around here before?’ Keara wanted to know.
‘There’s no mention of them in the history books.’ Deryck answered.
‘There’s no mention of them in the Dark Elves archive, either.’ Keara added.
Deryck realized that Keara had a valid point, ‘Do you think all records of them have been omitted?’
‘Yes.’ she answered, ‘But I’m not sure why.’
‘And that lady couldn’t tell you why?’
‘She’s never been to the castle in her life. And I think she was more fascinated with me.’ Keara remarked, and held up the journal, ‘But she did give me this.’
‘What’s that?’
‘endora’s record of them. What she had seen and heard, anyway.’
‘Is there anything that could help us?’
‘I don’t know yet.’

Several soldiers took the first watch, while the others rested and some of the mages began to prepare dinner; others were studying their books for more powerful spells for the ward. Keara had quickly become drawn into the writings of the journal, almost immediately after she sat down by the fire.
Deryck lay down by the fire, resting his head on his bedroll, staring up at the stars. And though everyone went about their own business, they still kept an ever watchful eye on the forest.
Keara had glanced in the direction of a figure a few times, not seeing it, but clearly sensing its presence. But soon she was no longer paying attention to the forest. She had been completely drawn into the stories written so many years ago. And even though everyone knew that Keara no longer seemed to be concerned with the being in the forest, they all felt more comfortable, having her near.

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